How does measuring poverty and welfare affect American Indian children?

Brookings: Up Front

For one group of children in particular, American Indians and Alaska Natives, exceedingly high poverty rates have had profound impacts on community wellbeing and long-term cohesiveness. Given the best available data, from the U.S. Census data, child poverty rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives have consistently exceeded 40% for almost the past 30 years.

On an American Indian Reservation
Panel A. American Indian Alaska Native Alone or in Combination
1990
2000
2010
2015
Percent of Children Under 18 Living in Families with Income Below the Poverty Level

0.44
0.43
0.46
Panel B. American Indian Alaska Native Alone
1990
2000
2010
2015
Percent of Children Under 18 Living in Families with Income Below the Poverty Level
0.55
0.44
0.44
0.47
Source: 2000 US Census, 2010 and 2015 ACS Data, 1990 Census of Population, Social and Economic Characteristics, United States, 1990 CP-2-1 (Tables 94 and 112); 1990 Census of Population, Social and Economic Characteristics, American Indian and Alsaka Native Areas, 1990 CP-2-1 A (Table 12).

However, a recent National Academics of Sciences (NAS) report affirms what many in these communities have long known—that the data on poverty are sparse and not as reliable for this group as it is for other groups or communities in the U.S.:
“Small sample sizes in population surveys have made it particularly difficult to reliably measure poverty rates among American Indian and Alaska Native children. Moreover, we know little about the effectiveness of a number of important programs and policies – whether provided by the tribes, by the states, or by the federal government – that affect this population.”
As a result, it is quite difficult to accurately track the impact that various programs have had on child poverty over time or how applicable standard assessments of what poverty looks like actually are to American Indian communities. Are conditions as bad as indicated by the official poverty rates shown above? Historically, high levels of perceived poverty have been used to justify the removal of American Indian children from their households by state …

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